Road To The Olympic Games

Speed Skating

Long track speed skating: What you need to know for the Olympics

Long track speed skating is one of the most compelling sports at the Winter Olympics, with competitors racing around the 400-metre loop with a mix of grace and power. Here's a guide to how to enjoy the competition in Pyeongchang, along with an introduction to the newest event.

Who, what and when to watch at the Winter Games

World-record holder Ted-Jan Bloemen is looking for his first Olympic medal at the Games in Pyeongchang. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

By Benjamin Blum, CBC Sports

Long track speed skating is one of the most compelling sports at the Winter Olympics, with competitors racing around the 400-metre loop with a mix of grace and power.

But which direction do the competitors skate in? Is it better to have the inside or outside lane? And how does a mass start event work?

Here's a guide to how to enjoy all the long track speed skating in Pyeongchang, along with an introduction to the newest event:

Differences between the events

Individual races in long track speed skating form the core of the sport, with competitors only getting one opportunity to lay down their best time on the oval. Two skaters compete at the same time, with one starting in the inside lane and another in the outside.

Skaters much change lanes after every lap — and at a set point in the 500-metre event — so skaters get an equal amount of time in each lane, but the outside skater has the right of way at the crossover. The races run counterclockwise with racers starting together in the 500m and staggered in the other solo events.

The team pursuit event was introduced at the 2006 Olympics and pits teams of three against each other on the oval. Eight teams compete in an elimination bracket, and a team wins when all three of its skaters cross the finish line before the other team's full squad crosses. A winner can also be declared if one team overtakes the other on the track.

Mass start makes its debut

The newest Olympic speed skating event brings a short track concept to the long track ice, and adds a bit of chaos for good measure with up to 24 skaters crowding the oval for 16 laps. With this in mind, skaters in the mass start wear helmets and other protective equipment in the event of a crash.

The first lap acts as a "pace lap" for skaters to build momentum before a second starting gun is sounded. The first three skaters to cross the finish line after 16 laps earn medals, barring any rulings from the officials.

Skaters can also earn points in sprint laps during the race; the three fastest skaters in the fourth, eighth and 12th laps are awarded additional points, which come into play in the overall rankings.

Champions and contenders

The Netherlands currently produces some of the best long track speed skaters in the world, with de oranje taking home 23 out of a possible 36 medals at the Sochi Games. Sven Kramer and Ireen Wust, who both earned individual and team pursuit golds four years ago, headline a strong contingent of Dutch skaters at these Olympics.

Japan and the United States should also factor into the podium picture in Pyeongchang, and Canada is sending an experienced squad to contend for medals, led by Dutch-born double world-record holder Ted-Jan Bloemen.

The introduction of the mass start event also bodes well for ​Ivanie Blondin, who won mass start gold at the 2016 world championships and earned silver the year before in addition to recent individual success. The 27-year-old Ottawa native, who converted from short track, is looking for her first podium finish at her second Olympic Games.

Another storyline to follow is the return of Denny Morrison and Gilmore Junio to Olympic competition four years after Junio gave up his spot in the 10,000m to Morrison, who went on to win silver. Junio has since become a strong contender in his own right, while Morrison is competing in his final Games after an arduous four years that included separate recoveries from a motorcycle crash and a stroke.​

Important dates to remember

The full schedule of long track speed skating events can be found here, but here are some of the key times if you're interested in watching the medal rounds:

Men's finals

  • 5,000m: Feb. 11 at 2 a.m. ET
  • 1,500m: Feb. 13 at 6 a.m. ET
  • 10,000m: Feb. 15 at 6 a.m. ET
  • 500m: Feb. 19 at 6:53 a.m. ET
  • Team pursuit: Feb. 21 at 7:13 a.m. ET
  • 10,00m: Feb. 23 at 5 a.m. ET
  • Mass start: Feb. 24 at 8 a.m. ET

Women's finals

  • 3,000m: Feb. 10 at 6 a.m. ET
  • 1,500m: Feb. 12 at 7:30 a.m. ET
  • 1,000m: Feb. 14 at 5 a.m. ET
  • 5,000m: Feb. 16 at 6 a.m. ET
  • 500m: Feb. 18 at 6:56 a.m. ET
  • Team pursuit: Feb. 21 at 6:54 a.m. ET
  • Mass start: Feb . 24 at 7:30 a.m. ET

With files from The Associated Press


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